grammar hammer quotation punctuation tips

The following question came from the Grammar Hammer mailbag:

“Where do you place punctuation when you’re dealing with quotation marks? Do they go inside of the quotes? Or do they go outside?”

Excellent question, dear reader, and a complicated one to answer because it depends on which type of punctuation mark you’re dealing with. Let’s break them down from easiest to trickiest.

Dashes, Semicolons and Colons

Dashes, semicolons and colons are the most straightforward because they should always go outside quotation marks.

Example #1: Ron said, “I don’t know which political candidate is going to make the best president” – just as Donald Trump’s helicopter landed at the Iowa State Fair and the crowd erupted in raucous applause.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

The decision to place question marks and exclamation points inside or outside of quotes depends on the mark’s relationship to the quote and its placement within the sentence.

 

If the question or exclamation mark is part of the quote, it stays inside the quotations (“Give me liberty, or give me death!”). The same goes for question or exclamation points that are part of the quotation and the terminal punctuation of the sentence, as seen in the example below.

Example #2: On a particularly humid day, Beth chuckled to herself, “Why do I even bother trying to brush my hair?”

However, you’ll want to place question marks and exclamation points outside of a quotation when they are not part of the quotation or the terminal punctuation in a sentence.

Example #3: Did you hear? They’re making a movie out of “Devil in the White City”!

Commas and Periods

The trickiest punctuation marks to place around quotations are commas and periods because the answer to “Where do I put it?” is “It depends.”

It comes down to where you are and where your audience lives. In the United States, commas and periods go inside the quotation marks. In England, they can go either inside or outside of the quotation marks.

Having said that, I do see instances where someone in the U.S. chooses to put the comma or period outside of the quote. This is one of those grammar “rules” that is slowly starting to morph into a stylistic preference.

My advice to you, dear reader, is to pick your style and stick with it. In most cases, the Customer Content Services team at PR Newswire defaults to the U.S. method of comma and period placement inside of quotes, though there are occasions when context determines whether or not we change or leave the placement alone.

Proper grammar is just the first step in getting your brand’s message across. Download our white paper Best Practices for Creating Media-Friendly Content for more press release writing tips.